Ohio Could have been Canadian

Territory added by 1783 Treaty

Territory added by 1783 Treaty

The Treaty of Paris in 1783, which ended the American Revolution, was quite generous to the U.S. Even though the colonies at the time were contained east of the Appalachian Mountains,  Britain recognized the newly independent country as extending to the Mississippi River. This more than doubled the size of the original 13 colonies. Why were the British so generous? Here are some possibilities:

•    Administering the land was very expensive and Britain saw an opportunity to dump those costs onto the newly formed United States
•    The Americans had mastered the ‘art of the deal’
•    Britain saw that the U.S. would be a good trading partner, and this land would allow America to grow, benefiting the British economy
•    Britain hated the French, our allies, and saw a generous peace treaty as a way to buy back the U.S.’s friendship
•    George Rogers Clark’s heroic campaign in the western territories (who? See below)

It is certainly possible that if Britain had held onto this land, Ohio, and the rest of the Midwest could have been Canadian!

George Rogers Clark

Next time you are in Vincennes, Indiana, visit the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park. The park was established to commemorate him and the expansion of the United States into what was then called the Northwest Territories. George Rogers Clark is the older brother of William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

In 1778, Clark led a small group of militiamen, less than 500, to capture several Illinois towns along the Mississippi river and the town of Vincennes along the Wabash river. He captured these without a fight as the occupants were either French or Indians without loyalty to the British.  

Forts captured by Clark are shown in red

Forts captured by Clark are shown in red

The British sent a force from Detroit and retook Vincennes in December 1778. Clark decided on a winter counterattack before the British could consolidate their position the following spring. He led his forces on a two-week hike through Illinois in the middle of winter and his surprise attack quickly caused the British to surrender in February 1779. The United States remained in possession of this territory through the end of the Revolutionary War. 

clark mural.jpg

Years later his younger brother, William, stopped by for a visit in Indiana on his way to St. Louis for the start of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. George struggled with alcoholism along with financial difficulties. In 1812, a few years before his death, the government finally granted him a pension in recognition of his service. The National Park Service (NPS) memorial was originally developed by the State of Indiana in the 1930’s and transferred to the NPS in 1966.

Historical Impact

The importance of this campaign has been the subject of debate by historians. Because the British ceded the entire Northwest Territory to the United States in the Treaty of Paris, some credited Clark with doubling the size of the Colonies by seizing control of this territory during the war.  Sort of ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’. Clark was nicknamed the "Conqueror of the Northwest", and his Illinois campaign—particularly the surprise march to Vincennes—was romanticized. 

I look at Clark’s heroic campaign as a small, but heroic, footnote in American History. The Revolutionary War lasted over six years and cost Britain a fortune. It is hard to imagine that these few small forts made any difference. Rather they wanted to dump the headache and expense onto the U.S.  And, the French ambassador at the time, Charles Gravier, felt that the British were driving a wedge between the French and the new United States. He described the generous British settlement by stating that "The English buy peace rather than make it." In any case, I'm glad Ohio  is part of the United States.